This post is looking to shed light on a word that is used very often in Christian circles, but needs to be reinterpreted and understood afresh. I will present two ‘fresh’ conceptions of grace that will be termed “Tenacious Grace” and “Costly Grace”. The latter is a term I borrow from Bonhoeffer.
To be sure, I’m not rejecting conception of grace as something that is a gift from God – perhaps best understood as used in Eph 2:8 – “For it is by grace you have been saved…” But I am wanting to blow open our boxes regarding this word. Ultimately, I believe our conception of this word has affected the way we have understood the precious and glorious message of the Gospel, but that will become clear as we proceed.
Grace is a gift from God, yes, but it is never something that causes you to be passive. True grace, having found its recipient, generates a co-operation, leading to righteousness and “good works” (see 1 Cor 3:10, 15:15, Tit 2:11-14). Interestingly, the eastern tradition of grace never separates grace and human freedom. Grace is not a question of merit, but of cooperation, of a synergy of two wills, divine and human. Grace is a presence of God within us that demands constant effort on our part.
What if a passive conception of grace has allowed a passivity into our gospel and into church culture? The gospel has become very easy, and also very boring. It has been made attractive to our individualistic, consumerist hearts.
Let us conceive of grace as a strand of two cords – both in existence and in full operation, and full effect without ‘balance’ or a diminishing of each other. Let us conceive of grace as a free gift to be received, but at the same time, a free gift that invites and necessitates cooperation and obedience. And as we do so, we may find that we have an answer for our apathy, and boredom. May we be a church that recovers a tenacity, and a responsibility and a vibrancy.
To flip the conception of grace as a free gift on it’s head, here is an understanding of it that Bonhoeffer makes perfectly clear. I could do no better than simply quoting him:
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”
I used to think about the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ teachings as a standard that could not be attained to and so therefore ‘grace’ became an EXCUSE to not attain to the standard. Whereas I believe now, that we are to labour to attain to the fullness of what Jesus taught and ‘grace’ is the POWER to attain to that standard. This is the way Paul uses it time and time again – Rom 1:5, Tit 2:11 are 2 great examples.
The way these truths hit the ground is beautiful indeed. We are called to be a people who by grace, freely receive the lavish riches of God. This mindset is one that begets peace and rest. And yet we are called to be a people who by grace, are invited to full participation and cooperation in activity. This mindset is one that begets tenacity and responsibility. We are called to be a people who give up our lives daily, to receive true life that can be received no other way. Such conceptions are not at odds in a human being, such is the beauty and paradoxical nature of the Christian life.